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It’s All Greek to Me! Who on Earth is Achilles?

What does Achilles have to do with a tendon in the back of my foot?

Do you ever hear a phrase that you’ve heard somebody say a hundred times and wonder where it came from? “Sleep tight,” for example, is something all of us have said at one point or another; but what does it mean?*

“Achilles heel” is another term most people are familiar with. Used to describe someone’s weakness, it’s a rather common phrase. But do you know the origin? Here’s brief mythology lesson:

Achilles was a Trojan War hero from Greek mythology. When he was a baby, his mother Thetis was told that he would die young. To try to avoid this, she brought Achilles to the River Styx, which was supposed to make people almost invulnerable, and dipped him in. Because Thetis held on to him by his heel, the water didn’t touch it, and as a result, it became his one weak spot. And after surviving numerous battles, Achilles was killed when a poison arrow was shot into his heel.

Achilles and his role in foot care

Fast-forward a few thousand years, and now, in addition to a vulnerability, Achilles is most widely associated with the tendon named after him. And it’s fitting because the tendon is commonly injured. You may hear that a professional athlete has hurt his or her Achilles tendon, but just as many non-athletes do as well.

Where is the Achilles tendon?

The largest tendon in the body, the Achilles extends from your heel to your calf. If you feel a cord of tissue behind your ankle and a little higher than your heel, you’ve found it.

How is the Achilles tendon injured?

There are a number of ways to hurt your Achilles, such as:

• Over exercising or too much physical exertion

• Frequently wearing high-heeled shoes

• Taking certain medications that can lead to tendonitis

People with flat feet can also easily harm their Achilles tendon. This is because every time a step is taken, the arch of the foot collapses, which stretches the tendon.

Signs of an Achilles heel injury

If you are experiencing pain above your heel, it could be your Achilles, especially if the pain worsens when stretching your ankle or standing on your toes. If you heard a pop immediately before the pain, that could indicate a partial or complete tear.

What to do now

If the pain is mild, just staying off your feet as much as possible can be helpful. Ice is always a good idea, and over-the-counter painkillers can be beneficial as well. If the pain doesn’t go away or gets worse, it’s time to see a medical professional.

Often Achilles tendon injuries can be healed with the right strengthening and stretching exercises, which you’ll be able to get information on from your doctor or physical therapist. In severe cases, a cast may be required or possibly even surgery.

Achilles injuries can easily get worse without the proper care. To keep your Achilles (and the rest of your feet) healthy, make an appointment with Dr. Nina Coletta, Broward County’s leading podiatric practitioner. Call our office at 954-452-4590 or send an email to

*There are differing opinions – one theory stems from the fact that mattresses at one time were supported by ropes that were pulled tightly for the best sleep – but most agree “tight” is just a synonym for “well” or “soundly.”

Nina L. Coletta, DPM, PA

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